Clownfish, or anemonefish, are one of the most photographed inhabitants of the reef. You will find them on most dive sites around the Indo-Pacific and the Red Sea. Made incredibly popular by the movie “Finding Nemo”, just about everyone with an underwater camera will try to take a pic at some point or another, but not everyone will get a picture worth sharing!

Here are Mario’s tips and tricks to get the best shot of a clownfish, so you can have the last laugh!

Clownfish. The challenge:

Perhaps the biggest challenge is how fast these little guys are! Clownfish are very territorial of their anemone and will dart in and out as you get close. I’ve taken plenty of clownfish tail pics in my time. They love to hide their faces in the anemone tentacles. Filling the frame and establishing eye contact can be tricky.  You will want to choose your lens carefully.

Be careful too of getting your hands too close. They do bite and some species, in particular, seem especially aggressive… I’ve even been chased away from an anemone by a clownfish that just would not give up.

clownfish, Mario Vitalini, fishinfocus, Scuba Travel
Maroon clownfish can be very aggressive and will chase you away from their anemone

A member of the damselfish family, they come in many sizes and colours. In the Red Sea, you will see only the Red Sea anemone fish. However, in places such as Indonesia, you can find many kinds on a single dive. They may look a bit different from each other, but all will be living in their anemone and behave in a similar way.

Clownfish. Tips and tricks for success:

These little guys don’t stay still, you will need some patience for this job. Wait it out. They do get used to your presence. Be willing to spend 10 to 15 minutes studying your subject. I do think they have a very bad memory because after a while they seem to forget you are there.  You become part of their reef. Once they have calmed down you will be able to approach the fish without spooking it.

clownfish, Mario Vitalini, fishinfocus, Scuba Travel
After waiting for some time near the anemone this little fella let me get close enough to take this shot

Clownfish tend to swim in a predictable pattern, but I have never had success chasing them around with my camera. Start by composing your shot: get the anemone positioned in shot how you want it and take a few pics to get the exposure right. Make sure you use a fast shooter speed so you can freeze the movement. If you are using strobes, check the position and lighting. Once you have prepped the scene, just wait for the clownfish to swim into your shot. You may have to take a number of pictures but do not despair, patience will be rewarded.

clownfish, Mario Vitalini, fishinfocus, Scuba Travel
frame your shot and wait or the clownfish to swim into position

Eye contact

Never forget one of the most important rules of underwater photography – eye contact. Establishing good eye contact will help your picture to pop and stand out.


You need to pay attention to the negative space (ie the background), you can use the anemone tentacles to frame and complement your subject.  Avoid distracting surroundings such as rocky backdrops. Anemones come in many different colours, from soft pastels such as yellow and orange to dramatic reds and purples.  The natural colours make a gorgeous backdrop for your fish subject.

clownfish, Mario Vitalini, fishinfocus, Scuba Travel
I used the purple anemone as a background to this lovely Skunk clownfish

Wide-angle or macro? Good question! In practice, both options work very well,  Use your macro lens to get one or two clownfish as your main subject with a hint of tentacles. Or your wide-angle to show the anemone in its natural surrounding area.  Consider also include a diver in the shot.

clownfish, Mario Vitalini, fishinfocus, Scuba Travel
Macro, wide-angle and wide-angle with a diver, three options to shoot clownfish

Look out for!

If the clownfish are especially aggressive they can be guarding eggs. Look carefully under the anemone and you may find them. they can be a very interesting subject if you have a good macro lens.

Maroon Clownfish, Lembhe, Mario Vitalini, fishinfocus, Scuba Travel
Even clownfish eggs have a lot of character

If you travel to the Far East to places such as Indonesia or Malaysia pay close attention to how the clownfish behave. Some will constantly open and close their mouth, have a closer look and you may be in for a surprise. Some clownfish are unfortunate to have parasites in their mouth. This little bug will attach to the fish’s tongue.  You can see their eyes peering out at you!  They make for a very unusual pic.

You can join Mario and improve your underwater photography on any of his photo trips.

Mario is well known for his patient, calm approach to teaching underwater photography – he will help you develop new skills and build your confidence in a relaxed and fun environment.